10 interesting facts about Heidelberg

It’s a great place to take a German language course, not only because of the beautiful surroundings but also because the huge array of entertainment options on offer and the compact nature of the city.

Here are ten facts about Heidelberg that you may not already know:

1. Heidelberg University is the oldest in Germany

Established in 1386, Heidelberg’s Ruprecht-Karls-Universität remains one of Germany’s most prestigious universities and will celebrate its 625th anniversary in 2011. It counts an impressive array of national figures amongst its alumni, including the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

2. Heidelberg is home to a hidden amphitheatre

Hidden from view from the town at the top of the surrounding wooded hills, the ‘Thingstätte’ was built in 1935 by the Nazi party and was designed by Heidelberg native Albert Speer.

It was used by the Nazi party during WWII for rallies and solstice festivals. It is now preserved as a monument, but it is still used for many festivals and cultural events throughout the year.

3. The first bicycle was invented by a graduate of the University of Heidelberg

Invented by Karl Drais, a student at the University of Heidelberg, the ‘Laufmaschine’ represented the beginning of mechanised personal transport. It was also nicknamed the Dandy Horse and was the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheeler principle, even though it didn’t have pedals.

4. The city hosts superb firework displays during the summer

Known as the ‘Schlossbeleuchtung’, Heidelberg hosts a fantastic firework display on the first Saturday of June, second Saturday of July and first Saturday of September every year.


The show starts with the Heidelberg castle being lit up as though it is on fire. This is to remember the times in 1689, 1693 and 1764, when the castle went up in flames! After a few minutes of the castle ‘burning’, the fireworks begin. The fireworks are launched from the old bridge and last for about 15 minutes. The fireworks exploding over the old bridge with the castle looming in the background is really something to see.

5. Heidelberg is featured prominently in various poems and novels

The city is mentioned in works by the likes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, and Mark Twain, who spent several months in Heidelberg in the late 19th century. The novel ‘The Reader’, made into a film in 2008, was also set in the city.

6. Heidelberg escaped bombing in the Second World War

Unlike many German cities, Heidelberg was not destroyed by air raids in World War II and therefore still has original buildings from the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance. It has been suggested that the city escaped substantial bombing because the US Army wanted to use the city as a garrison after the war (there remains a large US base outside the city today).

In fact though, as Heidelberg was neither an industrial centre nor transport hub, there was nothing of particular strategic interest to the Allies, who focused extensively on nearby industrial cities such as Mannheim.

7. The first evidence of human life in Europe was found in Heidelberg

In 1907 a jaw-bone was discovered in a gravel pit in Heidelberg – it is the earliest evidence found of human life in Europe. The ‘Heidelberg Man’ is the name now given to a member of this extinct human species, considered closely related to “Homo erectus”.

8. It’s home to the world’s biggest wine barrel!

The Heidelberg ‘Tun’ is the biggest wine barrel in the world and holds 220,000 litres. The vat (Fass) was built in 1751 and sits within Heidelberg’s famous castle.

9. One in every five Heidelberg residents is a student

As you might expect from a city with a university as prestigious as that of Heidelberg, a large proportion of the population are students. This gives the city a very lively feel and ensures ample social and cultural offerings for visitors and inhabitants to enjoy.

10. The German Pharmacy Museum is housed in Heidelberg Castle

Also housed in the castle grounds is the ‘Deutsches Apothekenmuseum’ which displays a large collection of old equipment and medicines used in a pharmacy in past centuries.

Cactus offers a range of German courses in Germany. For full details and to book please visit www.cactuslanguage.com.

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